PPP decides not to oppose revival of military courts

Parliamentary parties meet today to evolve consensus on the issue

Sardar Sikander/hafeez Tunio February 23, 2017

ISLAMABAD/ KARACHI: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has decided not to oppose the revival of military courts which had ceased functioning in January after the expiry of their two-year mandated term. The decision came hours after the PPP pulled out of an important session of a sub-committee of the parliamentary committee on military courts held in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The apparent change of heart came at a meeting of the PPP at the Bilawal House in Karachi where party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and opposition leader Khursheed Shah agreed that they would not oppose the re-establishment of military courts if other political parties supported the move, sources told The Express Tribune. Apart from Bilawal and Shah, attendees included PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah.

“You should give the government a tough time on the Panamagate scandal and other issues. However, the country is at a critical juncture, so we have to evolve consensus to get rid of the menace of terrorism,” a PPP leader quoted Zardari as saying at the meeting. Khursheed Shah briefed the participants on the stances of other political parties on the issue of military courts and recommended that the PPP followed suit.

“We should support the revival of military courts, but also voice our grievances against the federal government, especially with regard to the implementation of National Action Plan against terrorism,” another PPP leader quoted the participants as saying.  Sources said the PPP would again float the idea of forming a parliamentary committee on national security and call for judicial reforms.

The meeting also endorsed Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad launched by Pakistan Army in the wake of the recent upsurge in terrorist attacks in the country. The chief minister briefed Zardari on the investigation into the February 16 suicide bombing at the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan that killed over 80 devotees.

After the meeting, Khursheed Shah said the PPP believed in democracy and would make all decisions in the greater interest of the country. However, he reiterated that his party’s campaign against the PML-N government and its corruption would continue till their five demands were met.

Earlier in the day, the PPP pulled out of the meeting on the sub-panel of the parliamentary committee which is evolving consensus on the formulation of draft 25th constitutional amendment to be introduced in parliament to revive military courts.

According to sources, PPP lawmaker Shazia Marri told participants that her party was considering staying away from the government-opposition talks on military courts as the PPP’s reservations on some issues had not been addressed.

Before walking out of the meeting, Marri also indicated that the PPP would not attend today’s (Thursday’s) huddle convened by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.  Khursheed Shah, Naveed Qamar and Taj Haider are supposed to represent the PPP at Thursday’s meeting.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently visiting Turkey, was informed about the PPP’s decision, who subsequently tasked Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to reach out to the PPP leadership and assuage their concerns, sources said. “All mainstream political parties have agreed to the re-establishment of military courts. There are minor differences on modalities which would be ironed out,” a credible source told The Express Tribune.

In order to muster the support of its key ally, the government gave in to the JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, which had reservations over the trial of religious and sectarian terror suspects in military courts. This, however, didn’t go down well with the PPP which is opposed to expanding the scope of military courts to try other criminals, especially those with political connections.

However, government sources argued the issues would be sorted out and the PPP would be back to the negotiating table. “Just because there is apparent hostility does not mean things are hostile behind the scene. A lot is going on and we hope to see the PPP as part and parcel of the political drive to re-establish military courts,” said a PML-N stalwart actively involved in legal issues.

He said the government’s side proposed re-establishment of military courts for three years, while the JUI-F wanted the term to be 1.5 years and the PTI agreed to a two-year term. “These issues are not something that cannot be solved,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2017.